It’s been just about 20 years since I was first certified as a personal trainer. I was completing my graduate work at the time, and this certification allowed me to teach fitness classes, helping me pay for school. Fast forward 20 years, and I’ve kept up the certification and acquired a couple of other fitness certificates along the way.
Now, along with my work in therapy, I teach two group cycling classes each week. My rides are challenging but body-positive. We set intentions, I bring in inspirational quotes, we visualize and engage in mindfulness exercises, and there isn’t a word ever about calories or weight. I love this marriage of my two interests — how my work in eating disorders and body image can so seamlessly merge with my background in fitness. Sometimes, when my patients who struggle with eating disorders find out that I teach group cycling classes, they respond with discomfort or disbelief. Isn’t spinning just a symptom? It can be. But, movement can also be joyful, healthy, and recovery-based. Unfortunately, the fitness industry has corrupted fitness with messages, images, and goals that reek of disorder. Here’s the message that I want to share:
- I believe that movement is naturally rewarding, sometimes challenging, and often disordered.
- Pairing movement with the food we eat or with body dislike robs it of its natural joy and value. Physical activity becomes a tool with which we use to attack ourselves.
- Capitalizing on motivations like “calories in, calories out” is woefully reductive. Instead, exercise is a health behavior that has a significant, positive impact on our mental health and overall well-being.
- Engaging in physical activity to burn calories, compensate for meals, or lose weight can be toxic, addictive, and can ultimately, create a pathway to disorder.
- Exercise is not punishment, payback, or compensation.
- Let’s disentangle food, weight, and exercise, allowing movement to resume its inherently joyful and rewarding place in our lives.
- Let’s run and jump and dance because we want to, not because we have to.
- Let’s move our bodies, motivated by self-love, not self-attack.
- And let’s band together to challenge the stereotypical, limited, and disordered cultural messages we’re exposed to regarding physical fitness. Be part of the movement that demands change in this arena.
by Stacey M. Rosenfeld, Ph.D.
Dr. Rosenfeld is a licensed clinical psychologist and the author of Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging our Nation’s Fixation with Food and Weight.